The Best SMLE: The No1 MkV Trials Rifle

After World War One, the British looked at how to apply the lessons of the war to development of a new infantry rifle. Even before the war, a decision had been made to move to an aperture type rear sight – which would have been used on the Pattern 1913 Enfield, had the war no interrupted adoption of that model. So after the war, trials were made on some MkIII SMLE rifles refitted with rear aperture sights. These trials were successful enough to justify production of a substantial number of rifles for troop trials. This would be designated the No1 MkV rifle, and 20,000 of them were made between 1922 and 1924.

The magazine cutoff was retained in the MkV rifles, as were the volley sights in the initial production – along with an aperture rear sight marked out to 1500 yards. Following concerns about the durability of the sight and its adjustment latch, it was redesigned slightly, and the new version only went out to 1400 yards. On this second variation, the volley sights were omitted.

The new rifles was taken to Bisley and input was sought from both military units and civilian marksmen from the British NRA. The feedback that was received was that the sight was too fragile, its adjustments were too coarse, and the barrel was too light. These changes were implemented in the No1 MkVI rifle which would ultimately be adopted as the N4 MkI; the classic World War 2 version oft he Lee Enfield.

8 Comments

  1. Typically I see reviews of minor variations on a common (unforgotten) weapon as of interest primarily to collectors of that category, and therefore not my favorites; but your gift for researching and presenting the big picture of history and design made this one very interesting to me.

    Curious, though: If you believe (all quite reasonably, IMHO):

    -They asked the right people the right questions,

    -Their critiques were legit, and

    -They corrected them effectively in the next variation,

    Why do you characterize this model as “the best”?

  2. The SMLE the best example of incremental improvement (in this case bewilderingly so). That ‘arguably’ produced a better rifle than their competitors – notably Mauser. Though not without its faults (see C&Arsenal video). That notably proved itself totally serviceable and reliable in that ultimate test of service-war (engendering its well known loyalty and almost fanatical following).

  3. Parker-Hale made an excellent aperture sight for the Lee Enfield for competivive shooting.
    I had one on my No1 MkIII* in the 1960’s.

  4. The serial number on mine is about 1,500 before this example. I’m a Lee-Enfield collector, but I didn’t expect to ever see one of these for sale at a price I could afford.

    I stumbled across it in a local shop that was notorious for lowballing estates and taking all those “dusty old war guns” off the hands of veterans’ grieving widows.

    At first glance, I shook my head, thinking some Bubba had put a receiver sight on a No. 1, but then I backed up and gave it a second look. I tried to keep my face calm as I carried it to the counter and paid the asking price without even trying to haggle: $180, when Enfields were mostly going for about $129 retail.

    The shop owner was giving me the squint eye from the corner as the clerk rang up the sale. He knew he had just lost out.

    After the sale was complete, he asked, “So, what do you think that old smelly is worth, anyway?”

    I just smiled and said, “Oh, about $900. Maybe $1,200 to the right buyer.”

    “Bah! Well, I got what I was asking for it. I made money.”

    I whistled my way out the door thinking, “I bet you would have made money if I paid $20, you old goat.”

  5. Owning and shooting four of these rifles mentioned – the SMLE No 1 Mk 3, No 1 Mk 5, No 3 & No 4, in military rifle competitions (standing, kneeling & rapid fire) the No 1 Mk 5 is also my favorite. Its slender wrist versus the No 4 with its thicker butt, not as out of balance as the No 3 with its longer bolt, barrel & clip loading issues and lighter than both the No 3 and No 4. The battle sight does creeps forward under recoil however is not a problem at close range (100 yds) on my 1924 built version. The wide aperture and large gaps either side produce a good sight picture which is vast improvement on the open sight of the No 1 Mk 3 while retaining acceptable peripheral vision. The ‘what if’ is that this could have been the standard model in WW2 and Korea for Australia & India and also the large numbers of the early British WW2 built rifles instead of the No 1 Mk 3* actually built and meant that most rifles fielded would have been aperture sighted.

  6. The magazine cut off was quite a useful feature. Doctrine was to load ten rounds, close the cut off and then pull the trigger to release springs. Obviously, it was important to train soldiers to do that in the right order.

    Oddly, there is no need to dry fire a Lee Enfield in that way, because it is cock on closing. All you have to do is keep the trigger pulled as you close the bolt and it never cocks in the first place, something I have always liked about the design.

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